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(In Western Perspective)

Bhikkhu Anuruddha
(William Pulley)
Dhammaduta College
Kaba Aye, P.O. Rangoon

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Vol. III, No. 8, 1958

      To the Western mind viewing the Buddha's Four Noble Truths for the first time, these truths could appear as merely obviously stated facts that are commonly agreed upon by the average person reading or hearing them for the first time. The Four Noble Truths simply say:

      (1). There is Suffering. (2). There is a cause of Suffering. (3). There is deliverance from Suffering. (4). This deliverance is through the Eightfold Noble Path. It appears to be easily within the grasp of all.

      Actually, no one doubts the 'existence' of suffering; no one questions that there is a 'cause' of suffering; no one disputes the possibility that suffering can be banished, or modified under proper treatment; no one of reasonable mind would deny the logic and workability of the Eightfold Path as it is enunciated - even without explanation in fact, many of these Noble Truths are to be found in most all major religions and philosophical outlook.

      Taken superficially, meanings associated with words, always end in superficial understanding. The average or popular mind usually applies this type of thinking. This is simply the mind that 'takes the road of least resistance.' As a child, this mind must have things "simplified."

      But the Buddha's Four Noble Truths, takes upon itself a more profound meaning. It is the foundation upon which His Great Doctrine of Suffering and Deliverance from Suffering rests. In other words, to truly understand the Four Noble Truths, is to probe and understand "Buddhism" in its entirety. It means also to have solved the mystery of being and all phenomena that explains the arising of being.—all this is to be found and associated with the Doctrine of Suffering. None can say this is simple or obvious.

      This is an important point too often overlooked even by Buddhists beginning on the Path. Theirs is the failure to examine the meaning and the existence of suffering, relating this firstly to the mortal flesh, next to the human mind, and lastly to the phenomena of suffering itself, so universally experienced by all,—in so many forms.

      It appears then, that the longer we view this thing of suffering, the more complex it becomes challenge our complete understanding of its meaning to life and life's involved processes. But the Buddha in his great wisdom took nothing for granted; his was the inquiring mind. And in the course of offering the world His vast storehouse of wisdom, he gently and with method, takes us step by step upward until we have mastered reason and logic about suffering. Then, we are introduced into the realm of the mental life and meditation and the opening up of a new world of reality which transcends or breaks through the limiting sphere of our six senses. Hence we travel upward from the ridiculous to the sublime. Let us proceed with a casual study of the Four Noble Truths.

      The First Noble Truth says "there is suffering." Perhaps out of a horde of a million humans, one will arise and ask the question—"Why ?" From this small word 'why' countless philosophies and religions have sprung into existence, each answering according to its own time and outlook. And most of these philosophies and religions have hastened unwittingly to the conclusion that suffering is caused by "sin",—a "vengeful god'—"our omission to worship"—or god's way of making things right."

      And since most of these views rest upon the existence and whimsies of a creator-god, the limited conclusions would be that suffering is either an absolute need in creation itself, or a deliberate way of the creator-god to justify his existence. Neither is logical. For a creator-god to create suffering, is to admit of the limitations of that god and point up his (or her) sadistic and ungodly tendencies. Or to say that suffering is born of man's influence in the world, is to forget that all creatures, — all sentient life know suffering. On all counts the commonly accepted idea of a god-created world, as this relates to suffering, can find no place in the thinking man's mind.

      Hence, we must go beyond the commonplace view, outside blind-faith and unreasoning loyalties. The Buddha having abandoned the idea of a creator-god, saw 'suffering' as a result of "craving" (Tanha), and he conditioned this craving upon ignorance of the law that sustains suffering. To take this another step, craving and ignorance (of the law) is also the compelling force to draw us back into life's swirl, just as it draws us back to sex, hatred, greed, jealousy and all tendencies that have their root in grasping. This is the profound truth, so easily acceptable to the reasoning mind.

      The Second Noble Truth says, "there is a cause of suffering." Cause is usually associated with beginnings. But the most advanced religious or philosophical views are agreed today that our world and universe had no beginning, and conclude there will be no ending,—only vast cycles of existence and non-existence. So we reasonably abandon the idea that the cause of suffering is associated with any beginning of this world. We are concerned only with cause. But when the modern mind mentions cause, it automatically thinks of effect. So, any cause of suffering can have its beginning either yesterday or a thousand years ago, but it must also inevitably have its effect or result. Cause must have effect to the complete in our understanding. Therefore, the two ideas are inseparable, "cause and effect" to bring us closer to the meaning of our suffering.

      As mentioned before, the Buddhist mind does not associate suffering with the "wrath of gods" The cause of suffering is basically ignorance, and ignorance covers a myriad of human limitations. Hence it can be said that suffering grows out of causes with their root fixed in negative or immoral action. And since the cause precedes the effect, we can also say that an immoral action will give rise to an immoral reaction. To pluck the "A" string of a musical instrument, you do not pet the sound of a G string. The vibrational quality of "A" is separate and distinct. This same principle of 'vibrational quality' applies to a moral or an immoral act,— spoken, acted or mentally thought-out. The act, which is the cause, sets into movement the law which manifests in the reaction.

      The Buddhist calls this 'Karma' or the Law of Kamma. The scientist calls it the law of cause and effect. Currently, modern science has probed and uncovered many previously hidden "laws" of physical matter. And now, slowly but surely, science turns to the subtle realms of the mental life. The psychologist and the psychiatrist (and others) contributing to greater research in the mental sciences, are slowly conceding that the world of mental phenomena is controlled by unerring and immutable law equally as immutable as the physical laws. How could this be otherwise? There is a cause of suffering! But let this cause be associated with law and not chance or whimsy. All that we are or hope to be must rest upon cause and effect—the painful Wheel of Life. So we conclude, that which is brought into being through cause and effect, knows suffering at some point in its existence.

      The Third Noble Truth says, "there is deliverance from suffering". In Western lands, this is associated with death and the rewards of heaven. In Buddhism deliverance from suffering does not presume any escape from the laws of suffering, simply because, death removes one from earthly pain to heavenly bliss. "Heaven" is but one of the many abodes or levels to which we are attracted mentally or otherwise, but it is equally as impermanent as any other condition,—it must end. Deliverance lies in knowledge of the law and complying with the law.

      In Buddhist experience, deliverance also points to a guide or formula that if followed, ends suffering and ignorance. This is known as the Eightfold Noble Path. Deliverance therefore cannot be realized in wishful thinking, occasional repentance or wallowing in the perfumed waters of sensual pleasures or emotional ecstasies. These will pass and suffering will return magnified in size and intensified in effect. The alcoholic blots suffering from his mind with alcohol, only to waken and find double trouble and suffering grinning at him atop his bed-post.

      The Buddhist is counselled to stand and face the reality of suffering. The promise alone that "there is deliverance is not sufficient. He must step into the 'waters of trial and test' and through experience know that there is deliverance. Also, Buddha-Dhamma is not satisfied with any temporary deliverance from suffering. A complete break with suffering is desired, in this life,—not in death or ecstatic heavens. Death is only another step in rebirth, and heavens are quite impermanent. Buddhist Doctrine on the topic of suffering is logical, unerring and applicable. Our object is to make this break or point of departure from suffering obvious and lasting— in this very life.

      The Fourth Noble Truth is that, "suffering is ended by following the Eightfold Noble Path", as given by the Buddha Himself. This is no vague or complex formula knowable only to the mathematician or learned scholar. It was known to Buddhas of the past and to Siddharta Gautama of the Sakya clan who later became the Buddha. Through "kappas" and great world cycles too vast to be measurable, the Eightfold Noble Path has persisted, and is to be found in fuller part in many philosophical and religious systems currently taught in this world.

      Outwardly, the Eightfold Noble Path appears to read as many other "moralizing" systems. Outwardly, even as the reading of the Four Noble Truths, it is a combination of words to which many meanings can be applied. In substance, the Eightfold Noble Path is: Right understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Hence, such a combination of words to form a moralizing system or outlook would serve any and all levels in a civilized community. The Christian, the Moslem, the Hindu and others have similar "thou shalt not" decrees to guide erring man.

      In Buddhism, the first noteworthy consideration to be seen is the absence of "thou shalt not." The guidance is simply stated as 'Right Understanding, Right Thought, etc.' The inference and meaning behind this is aimed at the responsible mind. You are warned against infringing upon or ignoring these standards or guides, but you are never threatened. To the Buddhist, there is no eternal damnation, only suffering, re-birth and the continuance of suffering,—Samsara or the Wheel of Rebirth. The Eightfold Noble Path when followed, lived and experienced, releases one from the binding fetters of ignorance, human limitations and suffering.

      Therefore to understand the Eightfold Noble Path fully, is to associate it with the Doctrine of Buddha-Dhamma, to include its complete sum and substance. Alone and separated from Buddhist Doctrine, it is mere words. But as mentioned early in this discourse, Buddhist-thought is so aligned and logical that the basic principles build to ascending values and are made clear, step by step. To provide a lucid view, the most effective teachers of Buddha-Dhamma have divided the Eightfold Noble Path into three distinct phases, notably the Wisdom or philosophical phase, the Morality phase, and the Meditation phase,—all interrelated.

      It is readily seen then that Right Understanding and Right Thought fall into the Wisdom phase. Right Understanding points directly to an understanding of the Doctrine of suffering. Philosophically, this Doctrine of Suffering is all embracing,—to know the Cause of Suffering, is also to know the meaning of life.

      Right Thought, is thought freed from delusion and ignorance. It is the thoughtful approach to attract the right answers. Therefore, the right approach also infers the correct training method for the human mind, in this thinking, delusion and ignorance must be replaced by enlightenment and knowledge of the laws we are to deal with.

      The Morality phase, or Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood, is an outward action to demonstrate the higher morality. In speech, action and livelihood, we either move to exemplify the noble life or we permit bad compromise with lust and greed to defeat the higher objectives. Harsh, angered or vulgar speech cannot possibly give rise to the same results as gentle, undisturbed and ennobling speech.

      Right Action is based upon the weighing of fact, justice and equity as opposed to hasty and emotional acts, injustice and inequity. Right Action must of necessity be within the Buddhist concept of constructive, life giving action; never within the influence of destructive forces.

      Right Livelihood, is to engage in ennobling occupations that stand opposed to killing, use or sale of narcotics, drugs or alcoholics that deaden and destroy the finest in human nature. A community that follows the principle of Right Livelihood, is a community free from the disruptive forces of vice, corruption and the high cost of policing the community.

      This Morality phase, in the life of the Buddhist and the non-Buddhist is most important, since it deals with and relates to the larger number of people involved in any community. In all civilized countries, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood is encouraged through educational, social and occupational controls to counteract the prevalence of lawlessness and erring types. But how gratifying it is to practice "Right" speech, action and livelihood in the spirit of personal evolvement and enlightenment, outside of compulsion and the mandates of the local law.

      The Meditation phase is to be found always at the end of the Eightfold Noble Path, in Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Herein are the ennobling rewards the joyous fruit. This is the experience through which all men must pass before freedom from craving and delusion is realized or minimized. Even as the Four Noble Truths stand as the dependable, solid foundation upon which the Great Doctrine of Suffering and Deliverance rests, so also is Meditation the palace of forty portals through which the liberated man must pass. Buddhist Meditation Method is ancient and time-tested, reliable and enlightening and fully within the reach of all who are attracted to its cleansing benefits.

      Right Effort, is the mental and physical energy we must exert to begin our practice in Meditation Method for best results. This effort lies not only in overcoming the weakness and limitations of mortal flesh, but the mental approach must be well intentioned, sincere and never polluted with a mind saturated and drugged with alcohol or morbid thoughts. The attitude is so important when we strive for a desired goal.

      Right Mindfulness, (Sati) is exactly what the term implies. Your instructor differentiates between the scattered or wandering mind, and the mind that is alert to briefly note each and every distracting influence. Often years are spent in this training. But the rewards are so great. It can be said, that if the individual has known this practice in many rebirths, obviously he moves more quickly to higher development, in contrast to the man who is somewhat lacking in this merit and is painfully climbing toward spiritual unfoldment.

      Right Mindfulness, is not easy to explain to the man without experience in Meditation Method. It is both a 'method' and a personal experience. It begins with being 'mindful' of any and all mental phenomena we commonly designate at 'thoughts' arising in the mind. Also, sounds, taste, smell and sight influence the proper practice of Right Mindfulness.

      But it goes beyond this simple analysis. Mindfulness begins in the early practice of Concentration (Samadhi) to condition the mind that it might more easily find and hold its object of concentration. Yet, mindfulness (Sati) continues far into the practice of Meditation as a technique quite unlike all other techniques. And it is "right" mindfulness because it follows the time-tested formula of Buddhist method to produce the best results. The psychologist and the psychiatrist will find this method most unique and helpful to his profession if used.

      Being mindful (in the proper way) of the many interruptions one experiences in Meditation Method, early in the practice, develops one in many ways. The interruptions of thought, sound, smell or touch, are inevitable and unavoidable at the outset of one's development in Concentration (Samadhi), but in Right Mindfulness we see the interruptions with indifference and momentary interest—we let it pass as all phenomena will pass when it is "noted" or briefly recognized. Then, we return immediately to our 'object' of Concentration.

      Mindfulness also extends its influence as a development in our lives to advance the quality of our perception. Later, we automatically practice it, and by so doing we become the accurate and keen analyst of our own mind. We become acquainted with the quality and moral tone of our thoughts, raising the subconscious to the conscious, and by so doing preventing harm and injury to ourselves and others. So great are the benefits and fruit of mindfulness that we often wish to shout them from the house-top to a world of men who stand in need of these benefits. The businessman can be enriched and his enterprise made to prosper under Right Mindfulness; the housewife will become the perfect helpmate; the scholar will add this practice as the crowning touch to his education. In this manner the Buddha taught his Disciples. Today we envision the mental sciences balancing and improving the life of mankind by continuing research in this field.

      Lastly, and certainly of greatest importance, we arrive at the portal of Right Concentration. Here the Path both ends and begins. It ends the long and needless suffering that grows out of Greed, Anger and Delusion (Lobha, Dosa and Moha), and begins the new mental life of 'looking within' to find and experience the calm depths of one's reality. Here also is the deep pool of wisdom from which we can draw the choicest morsels. Right Concentration is every man's spiritual heritage, the wealth he has stored up through countless rebirths as merit,—his right and privilege to sit in the warmth of enlightenment.

      Right Concentration is the rewarding shelter, or the golden dome that completes the dwelling place, and it rests upon the solid foundation of the Four Noble Truths. Within the dwelling we are sheltered from the raging elements out of which suffering is made. This is the great reward that awaits man at the end of his long journey through suffering, to begin the noble life outside the confines of the six senses,—toward the end of craving and suffering.

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